Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
A delightful ‘Prairie Home Companion,’ and a ‘memoir of faith’ from Barbara Brown Taylor

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the July 6, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Movie Review

In the 1930s and ’40s, there was a series of movies made of radio variety shows. A film based on Garrison Keillor’s Public Radio weekly weekend broadcast, A Prairie Home Companion¸ is a one-of-a-kind left-over from radio’s heyday, long before television.

In the early 1980s, with my Mom and Dad and my sister, I had the opportunity of attending a live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion at the then-World Theater in St. Paul, Minn. It was a wonderful experience. So that fond memory makes me biased in reference to the new Robert Altman film, A Prairie Home Companion.

The overall story of the movie version of A Prairie Home Companion is fairly weak. A Texan entrepreneur called the Axeman (Tommy Lee Jones) has purchased the St. Paul radio station that broadcasts the program and is closing it down. He plans on putting a parking lot where the historic theater now called the Fitzgerald has stood. So the movie gives us the last show where Garrison Keillor seems aloof from the emotion of many of the musical stars appearing on the fateful last show.

The enjoyable gift of the film is just watching some wonderful stars performing musically and acting in the rambling skits and fake commercials. The dirty jokes section sung by Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John C. Reilly) is worth the price of admission. Meryl Streep is a fabulous singer as she teams up with her sister, played by the great Lily Tomlin. The young actress Lindsay Lohan, as Streep’s daughter, does a fine job singing the final song of the final show.

You can’t help but like the multifaceted characters that include a number of the regulars from the public radio show. The sound effects man doing his thing is fantastic. The African-American St. Paul regular singer Jeralyn Steele is an absolute delight.

The story about the end of an radio institution is all about death and dying, with an underlying foundation of hope. As true to the real program, note the religious songs that are sung with feeling.

A Prairie Home Companion is a delight for anyone familiar with a beloved radio program. If you are not a listener, I still think the exuberance of the talented actors and their willingness to sing their hearts out will win you over. A Prairie Home Companion is a summer delight. Don’t miss it.

A Prairie Home Companion is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America. Parents are strong cautioned for risque humor. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film A-III – for adults.

Book Reviews

For years in various publications, I have read the insightful homilies and essays of Episcopalian priest Barbara Brown Taylor. Recently her “memoir of faith,” titled Leaving Church (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006; hardcover, $23.95) was published.

Taylor begins with the story of her search for a Christian Church and eventual ordination to priesthood. The next 20 years of her life as a priest is spent on a large staff at All Saints Church in Atlanta and as pastor at the small parish of Grace-Calvary Church in rural northeastern Georgia.

It is at Grace-Calvary that Taylor feels free to spread her wings and form a parish with tremendous enthusiasm and vision. She gives of herself totally. There are few if any times that she says “no” to continual pastoral service.

After five-and-a-half years of dedication, she begins to “burn out.” She leaves the parish and continues to live on a farm with her husband Ed near the village of Clarkesville. Nearby Piedmont College then invites her to accept an endowed chair in religion. She continues to teach there today.

My wish for such a talented preacher as Barbara Brown Taylor would be that she found happiness and fulfillment in the parish ministry. Such was not to be the case. So by leaving the challenge of day-to-day parochial ministry, Taylor argues she finds new meaning in her relationship with God’s Creation and the students she teaches. That freedom draws her closer to the Living God.

For a Roman Catholic with perhaps a broader notion of priesthood that can include the poet, the teacher and the preserver of nature, leaving the parish doesn’t automatically mean leaving the priesthood. We take for granted the Jesuits and Franciscans, who are priests no matter what their ministry is.

Sure, Taylor sees herself in some way as a priest today, but on personal reflection she believes she should have remained a deacon. Her role as teacher and writer now has the prime focus.

Barbara Brown Taylor is one of the best writers around. Her personal life transfers particularly to each of us seeking to come closer to the gracious and forgiving God. It’s true that our journeys have different turns, but we can identify with Taylor’s search for identity, meaning and fulfillment. Her realization of her own woundedness and her desire to become fully human touches each of us.

Leaving Church is a thought-provoking, challenging book that any parish book club would enjoy. You may not agree with Taylor on where she comes out, but you will certainly know how and why she got there. Her story is food for our journey.


Spokane author Jess Walter recently received a prestigious national award for the best mystery of the year for his 2005 book Citizen Vince.

Walter writes his entertaining story from the prospective of the early morning haunts of the underworld in Spokane. It is the fall of 1980 and Vince Camden goes about his daily routine of card playing, donut making and credit card scamming. He has been relocated from New York City as part of the Witness Relocation Program.

Anyone from Eastern Washington who lives in or visits Spokane can’t help but enjoy the local references to The Shack, Dick’s Hamburgers, and a local Catholic parish. It may be picky, but I found the reference to a Pan American World Airways Office with a clerk dressed in a Pan American uniform more than a little beyond belief. Walter must have been thinking of Seattle where the international airline probably had an office.

Citizen Vince gets in high gear when Vince runs from Spokane to New York City to find out from the Mob why someone is trying to kill him. How can he make peace with the powers that be? Rookie detective Alan Dupree chases Vince east. The young detective believes Vince may be involved in a Spokane murder. The detective is paired up with a colorful world-weary New York detective, Charles. This whole section has movie possibility written all over it.

In Vince Camden, Jess Walter creates a main character whose world may be distant from our own, yet we identify with him and want him to get out of the incredible mess he finds himself caught in.

Citizen Vince is an impressive and enjoyable story that is perfect for that summer trip to the Lake or the Oregon Coast. It is published in hardcover by Regan Books for $24.95.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contribution to this publication.)

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